I've been going out of my way to avoid referencing famous people in my novel as well as fictional characters, but I keep seeing pop culture references in other books I read as well as in TV shows, songs etc., and I'm wondering if I'm being overzealous about deleting the stuff I had written.
I'm wondering how other writers feel about referring to real people and places or fictional characters in a fictional work and in what situations it's best to get permission or avoid it altogether.
I do know that the chances of these people/place representatives even reading the reference are very slim, but in theory, let's say you ended up writing a best-seller, what would happen in these situations:
Can you reference the name of a real hotel in a novel such as the Plaza, NY. without asking for permission? Nothing negative is written about the hotel. We just know the scene takes place in front of it. Should you get permission to mention them first, or is it not necessary? Would you probably just not name the hotel?
People: I see references to famous people all the time on TV shows, in songs etc, but I feel like it's riskier in a novel for some reason. If you referenced someone in a silly way, eg. to make some funny comparison, could that end up being a problem?
E.g. "She looks like a 50-year-old Lady Gaga."
To take it further, would you feel comfortable writing this in a novel:
"She's like Rosie O'Donnell on crack."
I guess in theory some famous person could sue if they thought you were depicting them negatively, but would that just be totally unrealistic or is it a real possibility? If they are in the public eye and can be picked apart on blogs, star shows etc, is it different in novels, even if it's just a passing reference? Is it best to err on the side of caution at the expense of the content of your novel?
You can't put a fictional character like Chewbacca in your book obviously, but can you just reference such a character in passing? E.g. "My ex-wife looks like Chewbacca after a good shave."
Or how about:
"He did a Sherlock Holmes on the filing cabinet."
Could the company that owns the rights to the Sherlock Holmes/Star Wars franchise have a problem with such a line or is that just extremely unrealistic?
Referencing Gordon Gecko, Mary Poppins and the Terminator would allow me to inject some humorous (IMO) lines into my book. As long as they aren't actual characters in the book, is this ok?
From what I understand, saying your character wears Gucci heels, or drives a BMW, or reads the NY Times or eats Rice Krispies or listens to Bon Jovi - all that type of stuff is fair game, right? I recently read a novel which referenced about 10 different singers the character liked. I can't imagine the author got permission to put those names in - I'm guessing he just went for it.
I know that the chances of a book being successful enough for the parties in question to even know about the reference to them are very slim, but I'd like to know what experience other writers have with this stuff.
Yes, I know it's all subjective and no one can give legal advice, but any feedback from anyone who's published/edited fictional work would be greatly appreciated.